* Judge asked by court to respond to Chevron’s accusations
* Plaintiffs ask for $27 billion in environmental damages
By Victor Gomez
LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean Judge Leonardo Ordonez, who had been asked by Chevron Corp (CVX.N) to recuse himself from hearing a $27 billion damages lawsuit against the U.S. oil company, will have a day to respond to Chevron’s accusations of ignoring evidence.
The clock will start ticking once Ordonez is officially notified of the information order, Nicolas Zambrano, a fellow judge on the Court of Sucumbios Province, told Reuters.
“Judge Ordonez has 24 hours to respond to Chevron’s arguments,” Zambrano said.
It was unclear when official notification would take place.
Residents of Ecuador’s Amazon region have said that Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, wrecked wide areas of the jungle with faulty drilling practices in the 1970s and 1980s.
Investors and the world petroleum industry are watching the 18-year-old case closely to see what precedent could be set for other mega-lawsuits against oil companies.
Last month Chevron requested that Ordonez recuse himself based on the company’s view that the judge had not investigated evidence of collusion between the plaintiffs and Richard Cabrera, the court-appointed expert who came up with the $27 billion damages figure.
“The motion to recuse Judge Ordonez is based on his repeated violation of Chevron’s due process rights by, among other things, ignoring irrefutable proof of fraud committed by plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Lago Agrio litigation,” said Chevron spokesman James Craig.
Lago Agrio is the provincial capital of Sucumbios, a key oil drilling province.
Representatives of the plaintiffs deny any collusion.
“Chevron has tried to have every judge on this case recused. This is all a sideshow designed to distract attention from the real fraud of contaminating the Rainforest and then faking a cleanup,” said plaintiffs’ spokeswoman Karen Hinton.
The company, which has said it remediated all areas of the jungle for which it was responsible, has said that geologist Cabrera colluded with the plaintiffs’ lawyers and technical consultants to develop a fraudulent damages assessment.
As the ruling looms, each side accuses the other of presenting fraudulent evidence while a slew of related legal actions are played out in the United States and Europe.
A previous judge stepped down from hearing the lawsuit last year after he was recorded discussing the case with a couple of men who secretly video-taped him with cameras stuck inside a wristwatch and a pen.
Also on Thursday, a U.S. federal judge in San Francisco granted a request by the government of Ecuador to subpoena Diego Borja, one of the men who made the secret taping.
Rafael Correa, leftist president of OPEC-member Ecuador, has said he hopes the case is won by the plaintiffs. They claim their health and farmlands have suffered due to contamination of the jungle. (Writing by Hugh Bronstein)